Leading the Way: Virtual Schools Offer Alternative to Traditional Education
When a Kansas mother's fourth-grade daughter fell woefully behind her classmates at the local school, she took advantage of a unique, state-wide "virtual" school. She enrolled her daughter in the Lawrence Virtual Charter School (LVS). Funded by the state, the school offers an online approach to education for students who, for a variety of reasons, need an alternative to traditional schooling.
LVS was founded in 2003 by Gary Lewis, a principal hired by the school district in Lawrence, Kansas, to create a virtual school. The school offers courses to students in kindergarten through eighth grade who may be accelerated, gifted, home schooled, home-bound, transitioning from private to public schools, from mobile families or simply not succeeding in traditional schools.
As he researched curricular resources, Lewis quickly decided not to try to adapt a traditional curriculum to his virtual school. "School systems that try to place their own curriculum online are setting themselves up for undue stress," he says. "They don't have the resources, the money, the staff and the expertise in curriculum to be successful. I was looking for a rigorous curriculum that had high expectations, challenged young people's minds, and allowed parents to play an active role in their children's education."
After reviewing a number of options, Lewis selected a program by K12, Inc., a McLean, Va., company that provides school districts with a Web-based learning management system for online lesson content, lesson scheduling, progress reporting, assessments and communication. After working with a trial account for only four weeks, he made up his mind.
"I would put K12's curriculum up against any 'bricks and mortar' school's curriculum that I've worked with," says Lewis. "K12's curriculum is extremely rigorous, interactive and requires application and problem solving. Most of all, it requires thinking."
His next task was to sell the idea. He traveled throughout Kansas promoting the virtual school concept. The school's target enrollment for the first year was 25 students. Within three months, 165 students and their parents had signed on. Currently, 560 students are enrolled.
LVS students begin by taking an online placement test, which determines their curriculum level. Within 24 hours an account is created and learning materials-books, CDs, manipulatives, art supplies, etc.-are on their way from K12. The company also provides support services such as enrollment management and community outreach. The content-rich K12 curriculum includes language arts, English, math, science, history, art and music.
Students have the option of taking K12 courses at home or, if accelerating in a local school, they work under supervision in the school library or computer lab. K12's program includes tools to monitor students' progress. As students complete each curriculum level they are seamlessly moved to a new course.
Lewis believes that virtual education works only with parental support. "As long as parents are committed to providing exceptional education for their children, virtual education will work," he says.
Key to the success of the program is teaching both students and parents. LVS works with parents to deliver interventions and strategies to their children as they go through the curriculum. "The more parents understand how curriculum is developed, the better they can teach their children," says Lewis. K12 helps this process by providing support for parents and families through discussion boards, online training and other types of resources and enrichment activities.
Lewis believes that the K12 program is an ideal environment for educating children, even those with special needs. "It's an incredible curriculum," he says. "It's well-organized, well-written and well-delivered."
For more information please visit www.k12.com.
Click here for PDF version of this article